I have kept up my new hobby of going to the video store and bringing home foreign movies that I have never heard of. How long that will last, I don’t know, but the results have so far been interesting.
I was able to watch two last weekend.
The better of the two was a French Canadian movie entitled (in English) “The Widow of Saint-Pierre”, filmed about ten years ago, and starring Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil. It was nominated for a Golden Globe, and won a number of awards in festivals around the world. Based on a true story, it is set in the (still) French island of St. Pierre (off the coast of Newfoundland) in the mid-19th century, where two obviously coarse and intoxicated young men got into an argument about a third, older man. The question was whether he was “fat” or simply “big”, and the only way they could decide who was right was to kill him, so that they could undress him and see.
They were tried and found guilty. One of the men died, and the other was sentenced to death on the guillotine. Sadly, there was neither a guillotine, nor an executioner, on the island, but there was an extra one on the Caribbean island of Martinique and it was sent for. In the meantime, the prisoner was put under the control of the army captain, who was the chief disciplinary representative of the French government. He and his wife (with his wife the stronger personality) thought that it was not right to keep this man in the damp, dark prison, because he could be useful, and she took charge of him, turning him into a gardener, having him build a greenhouse, having him help villagers (and particularly fishing widows) with major household repairs, and so forth. He became quite the man about town, he impregnated and married a young woman, he saved another woman when a rope broke and the vehicle she was on started charging down a hill, and he even helped bring the guillotine from the ship to the shore. Every night, he went back to the prison, and he did not try to escape. He was planning on turning the money he was making over to his wife for the benefit of his new child.
Things did not work out well, and he was executed. Not only that, but the captain was relieved of his post, sent back to France, court martialed, and made victim to a firing squad.
It’s a historical movie, but it’s also about the good in bad people, about the role of the law, about personal relations, and about the death penalty.
It’s not a must-see movie, but certainly a good-to-see movie.
I don’t know if I can really say the same thing about “The Wall”, a Belgian movie filmed in 1998 and set primarily in late December 1999, just before and at the turn of the millenium. Linguistic friction is tearing Belgian apart, and the Flemish and French speakers have been negotiating a solution, which turns out to be the surprise construction of a wall on the linguistic divide, separating the two cultures. The hero of our film is a young, not so smart, much too heavy, but pleasant and agreeable fellow, who runs the “chips cart” (think Belgian fries and sauce), started by his grandfather. Unfortunately, the chips business is affected by the wall, which runs right through it, and Albert, who is a Walloon, finds himself on the Flemish side of the divide, without the necessary papers either to stay or to go home.
Political satire, of course. Picking up on a very real problem in Belgium, of course. But a little far fetched, and none too good.